Linda’s Favorite Books: We Hope For Better Things

We Hope For Better Things by Erin Bartels

Summary: When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request – that she look up a relative she didn’t know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos – seems like it isn’t worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time. 

At her great-aunt’s 150-year-old farmhouse, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think. (from www.amazon.com)

Thoughts: I enjoy historical fiction and mysteries.  Traveling between decades can sometimes be confusing but the author very smoothly accomplishes this in the book.  I also enjoy when old items come to life in stories which makes for an exciting read! 

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Maidens

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

First line: Edward Fosca was a murderer.

Summary: Mariana recently lost her husband. She has been struggling to come to terms with his death and helping her patients. But when she receives a call from her niece she finds something to focus her energy on. There has been a murder in Cambridge and the dead girl is her niece’s best friend. It has shocked the town and the college.

When Mariana arrives she immediately believes that the murderer is Zoe’s professor, Edward Fosca. As the investigation continues she dives deeper into the secrets of a group called the Maidens. How is Mariana going to protect her niece and find the killer?

My Thoughts: This book was such a mess. There were unnecessary characters that were intentionally there to distract the reader. Some were just thrown in the give her a hint of something which could have happened in other ways. Mariana felt like she was in a cozy mystery. She was trying to include herself into a mystery and solve it.

I loved the location. This was something I was really excited about in this book. Ten years ago I visited Cambridge for a week and fell in love with this university town. I felt completely safe wandering the town by myself. I visited little shops, farmer’s markets and the colleges. If you ever get a chance to visit Cambridge, do it! It is picture perfect and just a 2 hour train ride from London.

FYI: Read The Silent Patient.

Teen Volunteer Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Book Review written by Maya McKinnie

Maya is sixteen years old, and a summer 2021 teen volunteer

First line of the book: “Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair Family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.”

Summary: We Were Liars is the story of Cadence Eastman, a girl with a “perfect” family that is falling apart. Each summer they travel to a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. The Sinclair family is composed of Grandfather Harris Sinclair, the aunts: Penny, Carrie, and Bess, the littles: Will, Taft Liberty, and Bonnie, and last but not least the liars: Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. The story centers on Cadence and her group of cousins nicknamed the liars. Cadence suffers from post-traumatic headaches ever since an accident that happened two summers ago (summer fifteen). The thing is she can’t remember anything about the events that led up to her accident. Her mother claims that she would tell her every day what happened but then the next day Cadence would simply ask again. Finally the doctors told her mother to leave it alone and that it was best if Cadence remembered on her own. The only part of the story Cadence seems to retain is that she went swimming one night in late July all alone, was later found curled up on the beach half naked, and no one knows what happened. In addition to this piece of information, she remembers bits and pieces of summer fifteen but there are a few gaps in her memory. The main plot of the story begins when Cadence returns for the first time since the incident to the island to spend three weeks of the summer with her family and beloved liars. Determinedly she makes it her goal to discover for herself the truth of what happened during summer fifteen.

Thoughts: One of the best aspects of this story is the ultimate friendship that exists between Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. I also loved the idea of a broken family that looks perfect on the outside. Overall I thought it was really well written and I loved the unique style the author wrote in. The ending was very unexpected but I absolutely loved it and would definitely recommend it for anyone who loves a story about overcoming tragedy narrated by the main character.

Favorite Quote: “We should not accept an evil we can change.”

FYI: There is definitely some foul language but not much more than your average YA novel. This book also might be unsuitable for those who are triggered by death, grief, or fire. 

The Curse of Pandora’s Box: Answers Revealed!

We were so thrilled to offer a take-home murder mystery this season in collaboration with the Big Read. This Greek mythology-themed mystery had you digging through emails, text transcripts, and private journal entries in the hopes of discovering the truth surrounding the mysterious death of Madame Phoebe Gaius.

Now it’s time to reveal the truth!

The suspect who murdered Madame Phoebe is…

Cassandra Troy!

Did you guess correctly?

We gave out roughly 140 take-home mystery kits, and of those who submitted answers, 57% of the them were correct with the second most popular guess being Professor Theus!

So why and how exactly did Cassie kill Madame Phoebe?

It all started with Madame Phoebe’s grandson, Apollo. As a member of a prominent Greek family, Apollo attended many public functions that were covered by journalists. At one of these functions, Apollo met renowned art journalist, Cassandra Troy and asked her out on a date. Cassandra rejected his affection, and Apollo was so offended that he used his Instagram platform to discredit Cassandra’s reports. She was subsequently fired from her job at “To Vima,” but Apollo showed no remorse.

Seeking both the truth and revenge, Cassandra started a personal blog, The Oracle, where she researched the Gaius family and soon uncovered actual scandals associated with both the Acropolis Museum and Madame Phoebe.

These scandals were:

  • In attempts to purchase artifacts that he felt were important, Professor Theus was embezzling funds through the use of a fake cooperation called Pyronix.
  • Madame Phoebe’s granddaughter, Artemis, refused to get married which greatly strained their relationship. Out of pride, Artemis rejected Phoebe’s money, causing her animal sanctuary to suffer financially. Artemis turned to identity theft and fraud to pay the bills.
  • Lord Dio Russo, the museum’s event coordinator, hosted parties with unseemly activities, one of which involved an intern suffering from alcohol poisoning.
  • Madame Phoebe had a tumultuous relationship with her sister, Rhea, involving their inheritance. Rhea, the eldest, was passed over in favor of Phoebe, and this caused tensions in the family
  • Madame Phoebe and Mr. Z, the museum’s curator, were engaged years ago, but Mr. Z was caught in an affair with his personal assistant, and Madame Phoebe broke off the engagement.

Having had experience running a popular gardening blog in her spare time, Cassandra’s new blog gained traction, particularly with other media outlets like the gossip journal, Kous Kous, which hired her on as a social media journalist. This gave Cassandra a little more access to the family, and she truly thought if their secrets were revealed, it would destroy them.

No one believed her, and Madame Phoebe sent a Cease and Desist out, threatening a lawsuit. Cassandra sent flowers to Madame Phoebe as a peace offering, but the threat within the flowers, the “devil’s bread” or poisonous hemlock flower, didn’t go unnoticed. Cassandra was enraged that no one believed her about the scandals at the museum or the wrongs this family was committing.

After the Cease and Desist was sent, Cassandra decided to torment Madame Phoebe with the truth by sending her the box with all of the evidence. She also started stalking her, leading Phoebe to believe she was seeing shadows.

On the day of Mythos Fantastikos, Cassandra used the party’s disorganization to her advantage, swiping a press pass and sneaking about in the kitchens. An avid gardener, Cassandra knew that hemlock would be mistaken for another leafy green and placed it on Madame Phoebe’s plate of ambrosia salad. Madame Phoebe suffered from coniine poison, a toxic chemical found in hemlock. The hemlock is a nod to the death of Socrates, the Greek philosopher.

What mythology-based clues hinted at the true killer?

Besides the evidence in the documents, a few clues based upon Greek mythology were included. Seven Greek gods were presented in the box as well as six items. These gods were associated with the seven deadly sins, and the items correlated to the gods. The gods also correlated to the seven suspects.

  • Plutus and coins = greed, Professor Theus
  • Eros and roses = lust, Mr. Z
  • Adephegia and grapes = gluttony, Lord Dio
  • Lyssa and sword = wrath, Cassandra
  • Phthonus and eye = envy, Countess Rhea
  • Hybris and mirror = pride, Artemis
  • Aergia and no item (due to laziness) = sloth, Apollo

In Madame Phoebe’s journal entry, she said that the statue of the goddess, Lyssa, seemed to be watching her and that she believed the goddess of wrath to be the most feared. Also below Cassandra’s blog was a quote from the Greek dramatist, Menander, that said “the sword the body wounds, sharp words the mind” referencing both the power of words and the power of the sword.

What other connections to Greek mythology were in the story?

Each suspect was inspired by a Greek god or goddess. Readers could say that it’s all a coincidence or they can decide if perhaps these suspects were in fact gods disguised as mortals. It’s up to you!

Madame Phoebe = the Titaness, Phoebe

Phoebe’s last name comes from a blend of Uranus and Gaia, the titans’ parents. Phoebe also had twin grandchildren, Apollo and Artemis. In mythology, Zeus actually had a relationship with Phoebe’s daughter, Leto, but Letitia (the personal assistant) is a nod to her.

The Trojan Priestess, Cassandra

Cassandra Troy = the Trojan priestess, Cassandra

The story goes that when Cassandra rejected the god Apollo, he cursed her to always speak of true prophecies but that no one would believe her.

Apollo Barros = the Greek god, Apollo

Apollo talks about “keeping things shiny” and “bringing things into the light” referencing the sun. Apollo also puts himself into the light via the most modern method; Instagram!

Artemis Barros = the Greek goddess, Artemis

The goddess Artemis is a hunter and protector of wildlife, hence Artemis Barros running an animal sanctuary. The god Orion is actually one of Artemis’ closest companions, and all the names of the identities that Artemis stole are names that the goddess also used.  

Lord Dio Russo = the Greek god, Dionysus

Like Dionysus, the god of wine, Lord Dio loves to party hard, sometimes with reckless abandon. The reference to “Dove Coeur” is actually a nod to Aphrodite and her relationship with the Greek god.

Mr. Z = The Greek god, Zeus

Though in the myths, Zeus had a relationship with Phoebe’s daughter, Leto, we reference it in the story with the mention of Letitia, the assistant who broke up their engagement.

Professor Theus = The Greek god, Prometheus

Professor Theus is embezzling money to purchase items that he thinks are important. He is sending this money to a fake organization called Pyronix, referencing the story of Prometheus’ gift of fire to the humans. His first name, Metis, is also a Greek word meaning “magical cunning.”

Countess Rhea Crohn = the Greek goddess, Rhea

The goddess Rhea is really Phoebe’s sister in mythology and though she was considered “the mother of the gods,” she had no real following or place of worship. Similar to the story’s Rhea, the goddess Rhea was slighted by the more popular deities. The goddess Rhea did marry Cronus which is noted by our Rhea’s last name.

We hope you all enjoyed taking this mystery home and exploring the clues and story. Thank you to all of you for participating, and be on the lookout for more mysteries like this coming to the Derby Public Library soon!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

First line: I could not have written a more perfect man.

Summary: Agatha Christie, one of the most famous mystery writers of the twentieth century has gone missing. A widespread manhunt ensues looking for the missing author. Meanwhile, her husband is hiding secrets of his own. As time progresses and Agatha is not found more suspicion is placed on Archie. Then suddenly after eleven days Agatha reappears with no recollection of what happened or where she had been. What happened during these days? It is a mystery that is still yet to be uncovered.

My Thoughts: Several years ago I remember hearing about the disappearance of the Agatha Christie. It sounds like one of her stories but was actually true. I was really excited when I saw that Marie Benedict was going to bring this piece of history to life. Benedict does a great job of giving voice to historical women who time has forgotten. Even though Christie is famous, this part of her life was not as well known.

I liked the alternating time periods and perspectives. We see the beginning of the romance between Agatha and Archie. We see the progression of their lives together. But then we see how Archie deals with Agatha’s disappearance. I kept having to stop myself from Googling the case in order to avoid how the author’s reappearance happens. I liked that it was a short novel that was quick to read and gives a little more insight into such a prolific writer. I now have to read more of Christie’s novels starting with The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Melanie Benjamin and Agatha Christie, of course.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Cousins

The Cousins by Karen McManus

First line: I’m late for dinner again, but this time it’s not my fault.

Summary: On a resort island lives the Story family. They have lived there for generations. But one day the Story children are disinherited by their mother. The only clue is a note that reads…You know what you did. For over twenty years the four siblings had no contact with their mother or even returned to the island.

Then one day a letter arrives for the next generation of Storys. It is inviting them to the island for a job at the family owned resort and to get to know their grandmother. Everyone is shocked by this change of events but each grandchild is willing to see if they can get a chance to earn back their grandmother’s approval.

My Thoughts: Once again McManus writes a fun and twisty mystery. There are mysterious people, family secrets and ominous warnings. Everything you could want from a good story. Each of the characters if very different. We even get a peak into what happened on the island before the Story kids were disinherited.

I liked the characters. I loved the drama. I was constantly trying to think of what the big reveal would be. And I have to say that it was not what I thought it would be. Maybe my thoughts were a little too wild but sometimes authors do those things. This book, especially near the end, gave me all the Rebecca vibes. Hopefully that doesn’t give too much away! I like that YA authors are writing books for teens that are just as good as the ones for adults.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Megan Miranda and Sara Shepard.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Invisible Girl

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

First line: I duck down and pull my hoodie close around my face.

Summary: Owen Pick, a college teacher, has just lost his job after a student accuses him of inappropriate actions. He doesn’t remember the incident and he tries to be very professional in all things. When he goes looking for advice he finds “incel” forums. Through the chatrooms he meets other men who have had similar experiences but are much more radical in their beliefs.

The Fours family live across the street from Owen. He has always seemed a little odd. When a teenage girl goes missing in their area they believe that it may have something to do with the creepy single man who lives on their street. And maybe he has something to do with the other sexual assaults happening in the area too?

My Thoughts: This is the first book by Lisa Jewell that I was not really impressed with. I liked it. It kept me reading till the end but it just didn’t have the same magic. I would almost say that it is mix of thriller and chick lit. It had more of a drama feel rather than suspense.

I liked the characters but most of them fell flat. I think they needed more developing. Everything seemed so obvious. I kept hoping for something shocking. Even at the end. But the last chapter was exactly what I expected. I felt very let down by this book.

FYI: Not as good as her previous book, The Family Upstairs.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Death In Her Hands

Death In Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

First line: Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.

Summary: Vesta, a seventy-two year old lady, is walking her dog through the woods when she finds a note about Magda. She is dead. But there is no body. Vesta is intrigued by the note. She is sure that she is smart enough to figure out who killed Magda.

My Thoughts: I immediately wanted to read this with the description and the cover. It seemed like something I would absolutely love. As soon as I started it I was confused and wasn’t sure how to feel. It was just intriguing enough to keep reading but I never knew what was truly going on.

Vesta is a solitary old woman who decides to solve a mystery. She knows no one in the area so she just makes up names and characteristics of the suspects. Everything plays out in her head. And over time things start to change. Her remembrances change. Her views on reality change. I just do not know what I just read. It did keep me reading until the end but I was disappointed in its ending.

FYI: It was a 3 star book until the ending.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Above the Bay of Angels

Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen

First line: If Helen Barton hadn’t stepped out in front of an omnibus, I might still be sweeping floors and lighting fires at an ostentatious house in St. John’s Wood.

Summary: Bella Waverly was raised by a disinherited member of the aristocracy. She was taught to speak well and have good manners. However, when they fall on hard times she is forced to work as a servant in the home of a wealthy Londoner. Then one day she witnesses the death of a young woman with a letter of introduction to work in the Buckingham Palace kitchens. Taking on a new name she enters a new world and finds that life as a cook is maybe what she has been looking for her whole life.

My Thoughts: I first heard about this book when I went to an author event at Watermark Books in Wichita. My mother is a huge fan of Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series. When Ms. Bowen started telling us about her new stand-alone book I was immediately interested. I love the PBS show Victoria so this sounded like my cup of tea.

I found the book to be a light and quick read. It was a mixture between historical fiction and mystery. The first 80% were surrounding Bella and her work in the kitchens but then disaster strikes in the royal family and a mystery appears. I loved how the food took center stage though. I was constantly Googling the items to see what they were. I ate a lot while reading this because everything sounded so good.

Then there is the location. I have never been the south of France but it sounds like a magical place. The Hotel Excelsior Regina is still standing but has been converted to apartments. I would love to visit and see the hotel that was built for Queen Victoria.

And the author brings in one of the most intriguing characters from the time period and Queen Victoria’s reign, “the Munshi”, Abdul Karim. He was the Indian servant and advisor to the queen. But he was disliked by many of her family and staff. Very little was known of him until the last 10 years when his journals came to light. If you want to get a more sympathetic and dramatic view into his story then try the movie Victoria and Abdul. I just rewatched it after finishing the book and it was a lovely story.

FYI: This is a perfect summer read. It is light and fun but with a little intrigue.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Basil of Baker Street

Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus

First line: The mystery of the missing twins could never have been solved by an ordinary detective.

Summary: Living in the cellar of 221B Baker Street is the legendary mouse detective, Basil. He and his companion, both admirers of the famous Sherlock Holmes, spend their time solving mysteries in the mouse world. When two young mice twins disappear it is Basil that the community turns to. As he searches for clues he discovers that it is none other than the Terrible Three. With his faithful companion by his side the travel to the English shore to find and return the missing twins.

My Thoughts: Summer reading at the library started this week! It is always a busy and fun time here at the library. To start off the summer I picked a children’s book for my review.

This is the first story in The Great Mouse Detective series by Eve Titus. It was the inspiration for the movie of the same name by Disney. And also happens to be one of my favorite Disney movies. It was a cute story and lots of fun for young readers. It will definitely be a gateway for kids into the world of Sherlock Holmes. I liked that the book had illustrations. The author even gives a list of characters at the beginning of the book. I think this will appeal to younger readers. I would definitely recommend this to young patrons looking for a good and clean mystery.

FYI: Originally written in 1958.

*This is my pick for category #4 (A speed read (less than 100 pages)) for the ReadICT challenge.*